Yes, You Can Summit the Blue Rag Range Track

How to tackle the Victorian high country's most spectacular ridge drive

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 26

As soon as I'd seen pictures of the Blue Rag Range Track, I was hooked. How could you not be?

A thin brown line that teetered precariously along ridges and false summits, surrounded by the best mountain scenery in Australia that summited at a trig point some 1726m above sea level.

There was, however, one major impediment. Me. Or, more to the point, my rather limited off-roading skills. I share office space with the crew from 4x4 Australia and they're cut from different cloth. They'll talk for hours about portal axles, winches and transfer cases.

They sport impressive facial hair and battered leather hats and boots. I can't even sidle into the conversation and casually drop a pretend-expert line about lockers or muddies without instantly being outed as a fraud.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 33

What I do have is a Ford Everest Sport V6 and Google Maps.

I reckon that if I could drag myself out of bed early enough and line up a few podcasts, I could drive from home in South-East Melbourne, knock off the Blue Rag, head over Victoria's highest piece of bitumen at Hotham Cross, drop down through Omeo and be back home in time for tea. It's ambitious but seems doable.

Armed with a serious helping of overconfidence, a heavy jolt of caffeine and a survival kit that consists of Haribo Goldbears, I'm off at the crack of six o'clock. The drive down to Sale is uneventful, but the weather looks promising.

The Everest's adaptive cruise makes light work of the kilometres and the seamless ease of wireless Android Auto or, if you're that way inclined, Apple CarPlay, means that even I can't get lost or bored.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 47
I know it'll turn to dirt somewhere, but quite where is beyond the scope of my research

The road heads north across the flatlands near Maffra, before I pick up the C601 to Dargo (population 99). I'll admit that I'm not sure how far the blacktop lasts here. I know it'll turn to dirt somewhere, but quite where is beyond the scope of my research. The terrain becomes a good deal more interesting the further north you go.

The roads that thread into Victoria's high country do so for one of three reasons, gold, lumber or snow. Dargo, and the road to it, was founded to provide a welcome break for gold prospectors en route to the seams at Grant, Talbotville, and Crooked River in 1863s. As with all gold rushes, the easy wins petered out and by 1881 the commercially viable gold was gone.

Some miners laid down roots in Dargo and farmed sheep on the high plains. Others grew walnuts. By 1896 there was but one hotel in town, The Bridge. This burnt to a crisp in 1898 and rebuilt in the same spot. Today it's known as the famous Dargo Hotel and well worth a stop if you're in need of a parma the size of a manhole cover.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 15

Not having the luxury of a leisurely lunch, I press north. Mobile signal comes and goes, the podcast eventually fizzling to nothing as the tarmac runs out. The Everest features a clever automatic four-wheel drive system which senses when you may need a bit more traction by detecting the amount of grip at each axle any time and apportioning drive accordingly.

It does all the work for you. The going is a little soft in places and it's a case of keeping speed up in the shaded parts of the track where things are a bit muddy.

Fortunately the Everest is on the optional 18-inch all-terrain tyres. These are a no-cost option on the Sport V6 and if you're planning to head off road, I'd recommend these over the 20-inch wheels with street tyres, as they'll really extend the capabilities of your vehicle.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 13

Without them, I think I might have given up on this drive a few kilometres back. Adventure bikers come the other way on their big twins, looking rather ashen. I wonder what's ahead.

The answer comes sooner rather than later. The road climbs onto the Dargo High Plains, the scenery becomes bigger and the feeling of remoteness ramps up. I round a corner and suddenly my brain is scrambling to process exactly what I'm looking at. The entire road is reflecting the mountain above and it takes a second or two to realise that I'm about to drive into a lake.

I stop the car and wonder what to do. The wading depth on the Everest is quoted at 800mm, but I don't want to get stuck in the middle of this mirror-still morass. My resolve is wavering. Without knowing how deep it gets, there's no way I'm about to pitch in.

Without them (a no-cost switch to 18-inch all-terrain tyres), I think I might have given up on this drive a few kilometres back
2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 14

Fortunately, someone does that for me. A group of drivers in tricked-out 4x4s, all snorkels and swags, comes the other way and I can see that, at its deepest, the water comes to the tops of their wheels.

None of them seem to be having any great issue with traction, so once they've cleared the water, I switch the drive mode into its Mud/Ruts setting, carefully pick my way through the hundred metres or so and breathe a big sigh of relief when I'm back on dry land.

Thankfully, the road stays a good deal drier as it gets higher. I almost miss the entrance to the Blue Rag Range Track while gawping at a pair of wedge-tailed eagles soaring over some distant peaks. There's no gentle introduction. I switch the Everest into its low range mode, have a swig of water because my mouth has gone as dry as the bottom of a bird cage and set off up the first ramp.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 23

Before long, I realise that most of the difficulty is in my head. The Everest feels bombproof.

I prod the off-road mode button which allows me to use the grille-mounted camera. This is key because there are big humps built into the track which, I'm assuming, are to help arrest a vehicle that's having difficulty stopping when descending.

The only issue is, the track is narrow and as you ascend these humps, you have a windscreen full of sky. Engage the camera and its wide angle view allows you to see what's on the other side using the central screen long before you drop the nose of the Everest.

The narrowness of the track means that you need to plan each mini-section with care so as not to encounter another 4x4 coming the other way at a key crux. At one point it drops towards a saddle on loose rocks. The inclinometer reads -20 degrees and it's clear that I'm going to have to scramble back up this slope on the way back. I wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 44

I pause halfway up and get a view of the destination, a flat-topped peak in the far distance. There are a few vehicles up there, tiny specks against the blue sky. I've come this far. It'd be a shame to turn back now and besides, I think the really tricky bit is behind me. Twenty minutes later, I realise that I'm wrong. The final pitch to the trig point requires quite a head for heights and a commitment to the throttle that really tests the Everest's grip. One last push and I'm there.

The views are incredible, ghost gums stretching to every horizon. Mount Hotham sits to one point, scraps of snow still sitting in some of the high gulleys. The huge face of Mount Feathertop juts out over its shoulder, with Mount Buffalo to the north.

I realise that I'm rather conspicuous up here, a showroom-spec Ford Everest sitting amongst probably twenty 4x4s laden with gear. I sit and watch a few vehicles tackle that last pitch, revs pinging off limiters and suspension bouncing from full compression to full extension. I don't remember it being that tricky.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 51

The Everest hasn't been in dealers too long and everybody has questions.

A bloke parks next to it with his Raptor and wants to know everything I can tell him about the rear suspension of the Everest.

I think he's still trying to figure out how it got up the hill so easily. Come to that, so am I.

Getting down is far easier. Slotting the Everest in second gear in the low range gearbox provides all the retardation I need to descend at a reassuringly stately pace. It's reassuring to know that if it gets really steep, there's the backup of the standard hill-descent control system available. A bit of pace is required to climb back out of the steep saddle, but that's achieved at the first try and from there I know I'm home and hosed.

There's a massive sense of achievement having driven the Blue Range Rag Track. Yes, serious 4x4 guys might see it as a modest jaunt, but it feels like quite a day out for me. I head up to Hotham Cross, at 1845m, the highest sealed road in the state, drive through the deserted ski resort and point the nose downhill on the Great Alpine Road.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 27
I think he's still trying to figure out how it got up the hill so easily. Come to that, so am I

There's 170km of corners between Hotham and Bairnsdale. It's challenging and beautiful and just never lets up, joining the Tambo River beyond Omeo.

Would I be having more fun in a sports coupe? Maybe. Do I still have a grin wide enough to post a wok into? You bet. The A/T tyres hold on reasonably well and give plenty of warning if you're starting to get a bit too enthusiastic, and both the steering and body control of this generation Everest are leagues ahead of its competitor set.

I grab a quick bite to eat in Omeo and carry on down the valley, past the old gold reefs of Cassilis and finally running out of downhill on the outskirts of Bairnsdale. From there it's back on with the audio system and cruise control as I set the nav back to Melbourne's south east.

2023 Ford Everest Sport V 6 Blue Rag Range Track Suv 48

The clock on the centre screen clicks over to 6:00pm as I pull up onto the drive. It's been a solid twelve hour day in some very challenging conditions, but I don't feel physically wrung out.

I feel a bit giddy at what I've done during the day, almost as if it can't possibly have happened. I scroll through the pictures on my phone just to remind myself that I really did travel from a new-build suburb to the top of a mountain today.

The big Ford ticks cool as the frogs start chorusing from the pond at the end of the road.

It's been one heck of a day.

Would I do it again? Probably not in one bite. That was a huge day. Overnighting in Dargo would make it far more manageable. I'm currently in training for that parma.


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